The decision to exclude social care workers from a new fast-track health and care visa has been blasted as a “betrayal” by care home owners in Wales.
Mary Wimbury, the chief executive of Care Forum Wales, described the omission by Home Secretary Priti Patel as “sheer hypocrisy” when she and other members of the UK Government had been clapping for carers in appreciation of NHS staff and other key workers, including staff working in care homes and domiciliary care, during the coronavirus crisis.
Ms Wimbury, who is also a leading member of the Five Nations Group which represent independent social care providers across the UK and Eire, is calling for a U-turn on the issue.
The new system has been unveiled as part of the UK’s plans for a points-based immigration system when freedom of movement with the EU ends in January.
According to the Home Secretary, employers would be encouraged to invest in workers from within the UK.
The health and care visa will be open to workers who have a confirmed job offer in one of a series of “skilled” roles within the NHS or care sector – or for NHS service providers, such as doctors, nurses, radiographers, social workers and paramedics.
There is a mandatory requirement for visa applicants to have an offer of a job on a list of eligible occupations and speak English – earning them 50 points – as well as a minimum salary requirement of £20,480.
Ms Wimbury said: “This decision is a betrayal of the magnificent contribution of social care staff, many of them who came from other parts of the world, in shielding social care and saving lives. It is sheer hypocrisy.
“When they were clapping for carers, they made the point that it was important to have parity for health workers and care workers. Now we know this was absolute nonsense.
“Sadly, I’m not that surprised but I am really disappointed. This is one of the things we knew going into this crisis is that social care is seen as a Cinderella service, not on a par with the NHS.
“One of the things that I hoped that would come out of this was that social care was considered equally part of the nation’s fabric.
“Of course, we need to recruit people to fill vacancies in social care but going into this crisis it was already hugely difficult to recruit staff.
“Not everybody can work in social care. You’ve got to have the right values, and you’ve got to have the right compassion. You’ve got to think about who you’d want looking after your nearest and dearest. It’s got to be someone with those values that are actually going to come through when they’re caring, and it isn’t for everybody. We recruit a lot of workers locally but we also need the capacity to recruit from overseas as well.
“Care workers won’t fit in the income threshold and they won’t fit in the skills threshold under the proposals that have been published.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, who said: “The COVID crisis has proved that social care workers have proved that they are highly skilled and should be valued as such.
“Appropriately skilled social care workers should be able to come to this country to do this most important job providing care for the most vulnerable people in society.
“I would, therefore, urge the UK Government, if its mind is made up, to at least allow a holiday of two or three years to enable the social care sector and the NHS to recover.”